Editor’s note: This week, in the twilight of the pre-Tom-Cruise-in-Rock-of-Ages era, we look back on some of rock and roll’s finer bat-shit moments. If you don’t see the videos, please try another browser. We put them in, we promise.
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” Slash Solo
Amos Barshad: OK, so I’m hazy on the exact details, but as far as I can remember, the story here is that Axl wasn’t feeling any of the locations that were being offered for Slash to solo in front of, so that chapel had to be airlifted into the New Mexico desert from a tiny, obscure hamlet in southern Chile, and it cost $250,000 to do but Axl said he’d quit music forever if they didn’t do it, so someone called in some high-end favors and a small paramilitary organization that was secretly on the U.S. government payroll was mobilized to pull off the complex operation, and it was great and epic and perfect.
Steely Dan, “Peg” (Making Of)
Michael Weinreb: In which, amid the recording of a single four-minute song, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen tangle over the bass-slapping, plow through multiple bands, dispose of three or four (or five, or six, or seven, or eight) guitar players, ruthlessly mock envelope filters, and torture Michael McDonald over his pronunciation like a pair of sinister spelling-bee proctors. I understand that there are people who do not “get” this band (including my wife, and most everyone else’s wife: My friend Melissa recently referred to them as “a dog whistle only men can hear”), but those are the same rampant imperfectionists who cannot distinguish “foreign MO-vies” from “foreign MO-vies.”
Bon Jovi, “Wanted Dead or Alive”
Chris Ryan: Bon Jovi was probably my first favorite band. I remember that I had the Slippery When Wet VHS tape when I was a kid. It’s a pretty straightforward band doc about the making and breaking out of Bon Jovi, and it pretty much climaxes with the “Wanted Dead or Alive” video. Right before the video plays, Jon Bon Jovi says something about how if and when he has a kid, and that kid ever asks him, “What did you do with your life?” he is going to show him “Wanted.” I thought this was pretty ballsy. Like he was giving his kid a crazy look inside the life of a rock star and all the depravity that comes along with it. But watching it now … is there anything excessive about this clip? What actually happens? They ride the bus, ride a plane, listen to music through headphones, drink some coffee, sigh a lot, point, ride in a van, fall down. I’ve done most of those things already today. And it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon! What I’m saying is, excess is really all about the presentation. If you add some smoke and some screaming teenagers and some black-and-white cinematography, the most mundane crap can look rock and roll.
Snuff Box, “Empty Room”
Alex Pappademas: This clip is from Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher’s Snuff Box, the finest British sitcom ever to take place in and around a gentlemen’s club catering to hangmen. There’s no way to really talk about what happens in it without ruining it. (I shouldn’t even tell you that it’s a parody of a specific performance by a ’70s band on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test.) Instead, I’ll just note that every single thing Richard Ayoade (the guy in the paisley shirt) does in this clip — the way he puts his hand on the top of the piano, the way he says “recorded in L.A.,” the head-nodding around 1:09 — makes me laugh, every single time.
The New Pornographers, “Moves”
Bill Barnwell: Tom Scharpling’s video for The New Pornographers’ “Moves” is a brilliant send-up of rock excesses under the guise of a trailer for a movie I desperately, desperately wish would actually come out. Even if the movie just consisted of an extended version of the cocaine sequence from the video.
Yo La Tengo, “Sugarcube”
Emily Yoshida: The distinguished ancestor of the New Pornographers video above, this 1997 Yo La Tengo video is probably in my top ten instances of Awesome People Hanging Out Together. I can’t even really talk about how many things in this clip make me unreasonably happy, so I’ll just begin and end with “DO YOU LIKE TRIP HOP? [ ]YES [ ]NO [X] MAYBE.”
The Roots, “What They Do”
Andy Greenwald: The ‘90s were full of earnest “real rap” crusaders offering poe-faced antidotes to the bling hierarchy that existed long before B.G. ever started rhyming about diamonds. The Roots at least brought a sense of humor with their cliché-aping 1996 video for “What They Do” (directed by Charles Stone, the man responsible for making your annoying friend yell “Waasssup?” at you for half a decade): outing champagne as ginger ale, ID-ing the lavish set as a mansion rented from the Goldstein family, and helpfully noting the booty girls’ crippling case of butt cramp. But nothing speaks of major label indulgence and excess more than consistently missing the joke: The only version of the video available on YouTube strips away the subtitles, making it seem as if Questlove & Co. were actually enjoying all the things they were undermining. Never do what they do indeed. (You can see the actual clip over at keepin’-it-real Vimeo.)
Jem and The Holograms, “She’s Got the Power”
Mike Philbrick: How naive America was in the ’80s to think that Jem and The Holograms were just a bunch of fashion icon do-gooders who by day wanted to guide some foster kids through the perils of life — and by night just wanted to rock. Truth is, Jem was a classic rock and roll tale of glamorized drug use. Let’s quickly break down their song “She’s Got the Power”:
Like a crystal gleaming bright [Clearly meth.]
Like a prism bending light [Clearly LSD.]
She can turn the day into night [Clearly a crack binge.]
She’s got the power [Clearly bath salts.]
She’s got the power [Clearly sticking with the bath salts.]
Power! She’s got the power! [Yup, clearly there was a special on bath salts.]
Power! Power! She’s got the power! [OK, they’ve clearly gone zombie — run away.]
It goes without saying that this is truly outrageous, truly, truly, truly outrageous.
The Rolling Stones, “Tumbling Dice” (Live in Switzerland, 1972)
Sean Fennessey: I was nearly punched in the neck by two very good friends recently when we briefly engaged with the tired Beatles vs. Stones quandary. I am pro-Beatles because I believe in a value system that favors integrity and innovation over black tar heroin consumption. (Just me talking.) I like the Stones, but empirically and emotionally, the Beatles are more useful. The real reason I struggle with the Stones, in this context, is the Mick Waggle — that shimmying, quavering, slithering body-swirl that, even at 68 years old, defines all bad Mick Jagger impersonations. In the above video you will see a nearly Waggle-free Mick, singing his guts out one month after the release of “Tumbling Dice,” one of their five best songs. The Waggle creeps in and flutters out, exploding from his arms before he gathers himself. It’s the restraint, the tamping down against exuberance that gets me. Not all rock has to rock.
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, Chris Holmes
Chuck Klosterman: When involved in a high-stress occupation, it’s important to know how to relax.